Staff physically abused patients with learning difficulties at Essex mental health hospital

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Staff at a private mental health hospital in Essex were caught on camera dragging, slapping and kicking a patient, inspectors have said.

Healthcare watchdog the Care Quality Commission (CQC) carried out an unannounced inspection of Cygnet Yew Trees in Kirby-le-Soken after provider Cygnet Health Care reported allegations of patient abuse.

Inspectors visited the 10-bed facility for women aged 18 and above who have a learning disability in July and August.

In their report, inspectors said: “Some staff subjected patients to emotional and physical abuse.

“We reviewed 21 episodes of closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage and witnessed staff drag, slap and kick a patient.

“We witnessed staff shove a patient.

“We witnessed staff using verbal and non-verbal communication with patients, the content of which the hospital assessed as a trigger for patients’ anxiety.

“We saw extremely negative interactions where staff visibly became angry with patients, threw items in the vicinity of patients and stood very close to patients with intimidating body language (arms crossed, standing over them).”

The report said that nine of the 21 CCTV clips showed “examples of staff abusing patients, acting inappropriately or delivering a poor standard of care”.

Staff “lacked the confidence and integrity to raise concerns about poor patient care”, the report said.

Managers suspended eight permanent members of staff from working at the hospital.

The report said Cygnet’s leadership has also made referrals to the police and offered psychological support to patients who experienced abuse.

There were eight patients using the service at the time of the inspection, but there is now nobody there, the CQC said.

The facility is rated as inadequate by the CQC and is subject to enforcement action.

Full details of regulatory action that the CQC may take will be published as soon as legal restrictions permit, the watchdog said.

Dr Kevin Cleary, CQC deputy chief inspector of hospitals and lead for mental health, said: “Our latest inspection of Cygnet Yew Trees revealed that people who lived there were being subjected not only to poor care, but to abuse.

“Some staff who had witnessed this abuse did not escalate it.

“Although they may have feared the consequences of speaking out against colleagues who had abused patients, their failure to act perpetuated abuse and allowed a culture of poor care to become established.

“Cygnet’s leadership has made efforts to address the harm people experienced while in its care, including suspending staff and making police referrals.

“This does not change or excuse the fact that a culture was allowed to develop at this hospital which led to people suffering abuse.

“Any enforcement action we may take will be published as soon as legal restrictions allow.”

In their report, inspectors said they also reviewed seven randomly selected episodes of CCTV footage.

“In these examples, staff showed behaviours opposite to the examples above,” the report said.

“We saw staff laughing with patients, we saw staff and patients participating in dancing in communal areas.

“We saw patients relaxing, engaging in activities and being supported by staff.”

Cygnet Health Care said in a statement that Cygnet Yew Trees is now closed.

A spokesperson said: “The safety and wellbeing of the people in our care is our absolute priority, and we are appalled by the actions of this small minority of staff at Yew Trees.

“As soon as the issues came to light, our managers took steps to support the two patients involved, including to offer specialist support.

“We are also doing everything we can to assist the authorities to fully investigate what happened.

“The examples of poor care that we have reported to the CQC are not reflective of Cygnet as a whole and, as the CQC’s final inspection acknowledged, other CCTV footage showed positive and caring behaviour towards patients at Yew Trees.”

Essex Police confirmed they were investigating allegations of an assault at Yew Tree Hospital on Sunday 19 July.

As a result of this investigation, which remains ongoing, we have voluntarily interviewed two people, obtained witness statements and have reviewed CCTV footage of the incident. Since an inspection by the Care Quality Commission at Yew Tree Hospital, a number of other allegations have been raised and these have also been referred to our officers. Those investigations also remain ongoing.

Essex Police